Imagine a moving tower made of huge cement bricks weighing 35 metric tons. The movement of these massive blocks is powered by wind or solar power plants and is a way to store the energy those plants generate. Software controls the movement of the blocks automatically, responding to changes in power availability across an electric grid to charge and discharge the power that’s being generated.
The development of this technology is the culmination of years of work at Idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based startup incubator, and Energy Vault, the company it spun out to commercialize the technology, has just raised $110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund to take its next steps in the world.
Energy storage remains one of the largest obstacles to the large-scale rollout of renewable energy technologies on utility grids, but utilities, development agencies and private companies are investing billions to bring new energy storage capabilities to market as the technology to store energy improves.
The investment in Energy Vault is just one indicator of the massive market that investors see coming as power companies spend billions on renewables and storage. As The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, ScottishPower, the U.K.-based utility, is committing to spending $7.2 billion on renewable energy, grid upgrades and storage technologies between 2018 and 2022.
Meanwhile, out in the wilds of Utah, the American subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is working on a joint venture that would create the world’s largest clean energy storage facility. That 1 gigawatt storage would go a long way toward providing renewable power to the Western U.S. power grid and is going to be based on compressed air energy storage, large flow batteries, solid oxide fuel cells and renewable hydrogen storage.
“For 20 years, we’ve been reducing carbon emissions of the U.S. power grid using natural gas in combination with renewable power to replace retiring coal-fired power generation. In California and other states in the western United States, which will soon have retired all of their coal-fired power generation, we need the next step in decarbonization. Mixing natural gas and storage, and eventually using 100% renewable storage, is that next step,” said Paul Browning, president and CEO of MHPS Americas.
Energy Vault’s technology could also be used in these kinds of remote locations, according to chief executive Robert Piconi.
Energy Vault’s storage technology certainly isn’t going to be ubiquitous in highly populated areas, but the company’s towers of blocks can work well in remote locations and have a lower cost than chemical storage options, Piconi said.
“What you’re seeing there on some of the battery side is the need in the market for a mobile solution that isn’t tied to topography,” Piconi said. “We obviously aren’t putting these systems in urban areas or the middle of cities.”
For areas that need larger-scale storage that’s a bit more flexible there are storage solutions like Tesla’s new Megapack.
The Megapack comes fully assembled — including battery modules, bi-directional inverters, a thermal management system, an AC breaker and controls — and can store up to 3 megawatt-hours of energy with a 1.5 megawatt inverter capacity.
The Energy Vault storage system is made for much, much larger storage capacity. Each tower can store between 20 and 80 megawatt hours at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt hour (on a levelized cost basis), according to Piconi.
The first facility that Energy Vault is developing is a 35 megawatt-hour system in Northern Italy, and there are other undisclosed contracts with an undisclosed number of customers on four continents, according to the company.
One place where Piconi sees particular applicability for Energy Vault’s technology is around desalination plants in places like sub-Saharan Africa or desert areas.
Backing Energy Vault’s new storage technology are a clutch of investors, including Neotribe Ventures, Cemex Ventures, Idealab and SoftBank.
As privacy regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act proliferate, more startups are looking to help companies comply. Enter Preclusio, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2019 class, which has developed a machine learning-fueled solution to help companies adhere to these privacy regulations.
“We have a platform that is deployed on prem in our customer’s environment, and helps them identify what data they’re collecting, how they’re using it, where it’s being stored and how it should be protected. We help companies put together this broad view of their data, and then we continuously monitor their data infrastructure to ensure that this data continues to be protected,” company co-founder and CEO Heather Wade told TechCrunch.
She says that the company made a deliberate decision to keep the solution on-prem.”We really believe in giving our clients control over their data. We don’t want to be just another third-party SaaS vendor that you have to ship your data to,” Wade explained.
That said, customers can run it wherever they wish, whether that’s on prem or in the cloud in Azure or AWS. Regardless of where it’s stored, the idea is to give customers direct control over their own data. “We are really trying to alert our customers to threats or to potential privacy exceptions that are occurring in their environment in real time, and being in their environment is really the best way to facilitate this,” she said.
The product works by getting read-only access to the data, then begins to identify sensitive data in an automated fashion using machine learning. “Our product automatically looks at the schema and samples of the data, and uses machine learning to identify common protected data,” she said. Once that process is completed, a privacy compliance team can review the findings and adjust these classifications as needed.
Wade, who started the company in March, says the idea formed at previous positions where she was responsible for implementing privacy policies and found there weren’t adequate solutions on the market to help. “I had to face the challenges first-hand of dealing with privacy and compliance and seeing how resources were really taken away from our engineering teams and having to allocate these resources to solving these problems internally, especially early on when GDPR was first passed, and there really were not that many tools available in the market,” she said.
Interestingly Wade’s co-founder is her husband, John. She says they deal with the intensity of being married and startup founders by sticking to their areas of expertise. He’s the marketing person and she’s the technical one.
She says they applied to Y Combinator because they wanted to grow quickly, and that timing is important with more privacy laws coming online soon. She has been impressed with the generosity of the community in helping them reach their goals. “It’s almost indescribable how generous and helpful other folks who’ve been through the YC program are to the incoming batches, and they really do have that spirit of paying it forward,” she said.
The Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen fuel cell SUV first unveiled at CES 2018, has earned a top safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The award, announced Thursday, marks two firsts. The Nexo is the first fuel cell vehicle to earn IIHS’s top safety award. Then again, it’s also the first fuel cell vehicle IIHS has ever tested.
The top safety pick+ award is for 2019 Hyundai Nexo vehicles built after June 2019, when the automaker adjusted the headlights to provide better visibility through curves. Any Nexo vehicles produced prior to June still get high marks, but fall short of the top award. Instead, they qualify for IIHS’ second-tier top safety award. The Nexo joins other 2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles to earn top safety pick+ awards, including the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Niro hybrid and Kia Soul.
The market for the Nexo is small right now. Within the U.S., the new vehicle, which has a base price of $58,300, is only sold in California. Deliveries of the vehicle to California residents began in December 2018. The vehicle has been available to customers in Korea since early 2018.
Normally, such a limited vehicle wouldn’t be included in IIHS’s routine test schedule, the organization said. Hyundai nominated the vehicle for testing. IIHS says it ended up benefiting too because it gave the organization an early opportunity to evaluate a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
Earning this top safety pick+ award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. It also needs an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.
The Nexo, a midsize luxury SUV, has good ratings in all six crashworthiness tests, IIHS said. The Nexo’s standard front crash prevention system earned a superior rating. The vehicle avoided collisions in 12 mph and 25 mph track tests and has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria, according to IIHS.
The Nexo could someday become more common, and even used in fleets. Self-driving vehicle startup Aurora has been working with Hyundai and Kia for the last year to integrate its “Driver” into Hyundai’s Nexo.
Continental AG, a global auto-parts supplier, will no longer invest in parts used in internal combustion engines, the latest sign that the automotive industry is being forced to respond to increasingly strict emissions laws.
Instead, the company said it will put more focus and capital on the electric powertrain, which it believes is the “future of mobility.”
“Our customers are increasingly and consistently turning to the electrification of combustion engines through hybrid drives as well as to pure battery-powered vehicles,” said Andreas Wolf, head of Continental’s Powertrain division, which in the future will operate under the name Vitesco Technologies with Wolf as CEO.
This shift toward electrification is being driven by tighter regulations around the world. Cities are clamping down on the use of diesel- and gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs in urban centers and states like California are tightening rules to meet air quality and emissions targets to combat climate change. China has placed restrictions on gas-powered vehicles and provides incentives to electric ones. France wants to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040.
And automakers are following. Volvo, VW and others have announced plans over the past two years to increase sales of electric vehicles and move toward more electrification throughout their portfolios of existing vehicles. Electrification can mean hybrid, plug-in or all-electric vehicles.
There has been plenty of speculation and attempts to predict exactly when — not so much if — a tectonic shift to electric powertrains would occur. Suppliers have grappled with the “when” part. Putting too much capital too soon toward developing automotive parts can saddle a supplier with inventory and mounting costs.
What’s happening at Continental is starting to play out within the rest of the industry. If companies like Continental want to survive and keep up with the demands of automakers, they have to act. But not wildly. Development costs for powertrains are, after all, no small matter.
Continental is making specific choices on what exactly it pursues. The company, for instance, will not consider producing solid-state battery cells in the future. Apparently the company was open to making an investment in battery cell production. But now the company believes the market no longer offers any attractive economic prospects for battery cell production for Continental, Wolf said.
What Continental is going to do is reduce investment in its hydraulic components business, which includes parts like injectors and pumps for gasoline and diesel engines.
“Investments in research and development and in production capacity for innovations are becoming less profitable,” says Wolf, explaining the reasoning behind this decision.
Continental will fulfill existing orders. New orders will “play an increasingly marginal role.”
This shift within Continental will likely extend over a number of years, as combustion engines essentially serve as the basic drivers for hybrid solutions, Wolf said. The company will also review its business in components for exhaust-gas after treatment and fuel delivery.
All of this translates into big changes within the company, including the technologies it decides to invest in, jobs and even locations of some of its operations. Continental said it will also consider partnerships.
Tesla’s claims about the safety of its Model 3 electric vehicle prompted U.S. regulators to send a cease-and-desist letter and escalate the matter by asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate, according to documents released by the nonprofit legal transparency website PlainSite.
The documents show correspondence between the lawyers at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Tesla that began after the automaker’s October 7 blog post that said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested. PlainSite received the 79 pages of communications since January 2018 between NHTSA and Tesla through a Freedom of Information Act request. There were 450 pages of communication that were withheld due to Tesla’s request for confidentiality on the basis of “trade secrets.”
NHTSA took issue with the blog post, arguing that Tesla’s claims were inconsistent with its advertising guidelines regarding crash ratings. The matter might have ended with that demand. But NHTSA took the issue further and informed Tesla it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to weigh in.
“This is not the first time that Tesla has disregarded the guidelines in a matter that may lead to consumer confusion and give Tesla an unfair market advantage,” the letter dated October 17 reads. “We have therefore also referred this matter to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate whether these statements constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The automaker’s lawyers did, however, push back against NHTSA’s request, according to the correspondence released by PlainSite. Tesla lawyers argue in one letter that the company’s statements were neither “untrue nor misleading.”
“To the contrary, Tesla has provided consumers with fair and objective information to compare the relative safety of vehicles having 5-star overall ratings,” the letter from Tesla’s deputy general counsel.
The documents posted by PlainSite also showed NHTSA requested sales data on all Tesla vehicles produced since July 2016 with or without Autopilot, the automaker’s advanced driver assistance system. The agency also issued subpoenas to Tesla ordering it to produce information on several crashes, including a January 25, 2019 crash in San Ramon, Calif. The subpoenas requested information about the vehicle, its owner, history and videos and images related to the crash and were to be sent to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigations.
Private rocket launch startup and SpaceX competitor Rocket Lab made a big announcement today: It’ll be looking to re-use the first stage of its Electron rockets, returning them to Earth with a controlled landing after they make their initial trip to orbit with the payload on board. The landing sequence will be different from SpaceX’s however: They’ll attempt to catch the returned first stage mid-air using a helicopter.
That’s in part because, as Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck told a crowd when announcing the news today, the company is “not doing a propulsive re-entry” and “we’re not doing a propulsive landing,” and instead will leach off its immense speed upon return to Earth through a turnaround burn in space before releasing a parachute to slow it down enough for a helicopter to catch it.
There are a number of steps required to get to that point, but already, Rocket Lab has been looking to measure all the data it needs to ensure this is possible through its last few launches. It’s upgrading the instrumentation for its eighth flight to gather yet more data, and then on flight 10 it’ll have the rocket splash down into the ocean to recover that rocket for even more learning. Then, during a flight to be determined later (Beck is unwilling to put a number on it at this stage) they’ll try to actually bring one down in good enough shape to reuse it.
As for why, there’s a clear advantage to being able to re-fly rockets, and it’s a simple one to understand when you realize that there’s a huge amount of demand for commercial launches.
“The fundamental reason we’re doing this is launch frequency,” Beck said. “Even if I can get the stage done once, I can effectively double production ratio.”
Beck also added that the biggest difficulty will be braking the rocket’s speed as it returns to Earth — a feat next to which he said the actual mid-air capture of the Electron via helicopter is actually pretty easy, from his POV as an amateur helicopter pilot in training.
Rocket Lab has an HQ in Huntington Beach, Calif. and its own private launch site in New Zealand; it was founded in 2006 by Beck. The company has been test launching its orbital Electron rocket since 2017, and serving customers commercially since 2018. It also intends to launch from Virginia in the U.S. starting in 2019.
The company revealed its Photon satellite platform earlier this year, which would allow small satellite operators to focus on their specific service and use the off-the-shelf Photon design to skip the step of actually designing and building the satellite itself.
Nissan and EVgo said Tuesday they will install another 200 DC fast chargers in the United States to support the growing number of consumers who are buying electric vehicles, including the new Nissan Leaf e+ that came to market earlier this year.
The 100 kilowatt DC fast-charging stations will have both CHAdeMO and CCS connectors, making them accessible to more EV drivers. The inclusion of both charger connectors is logical; it’s also notable for Nissan, once the primary advocates for CHAdeMO chargers.
The announcement builds off of the companies’ six-year partnership, which included building out a corridor of EV chargers along Interstate 95 on the East Coast, as well as between Monterey, Calif., and Lake Tahoe.
Nissan says it has installed more than 2,000 quick-charge connectors across the country since 2010.
Plans to add another 200 fast chargers follows the launch of the 2019 Nissan Leaf e+. The Nissan Leaf e+, which came to the U.S. and Canada this spring, has a range of 226 miles and fast-charging capability.
This new version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback has 40% more range than other versions thanks to a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack. That 226-mile range puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 standard range plus with 240 miles.
“Given the tremendous driver response to the 2019 long-range all-electric LEAF, Nissan and EVgo will accelerate fast charging by committing to a multi-year charger construction program that will continue to expand fast-charging options for EV drivers across the country,” Aditya Jairaj, director, EV Sales and Marketing, Nissan North America said in a statement.
The companies also plan to partner on a marketing campaign to sell consumers on the benefits of EVs, and for Nissan, hopefully persuade more to buy its Nissan Leaf Plus. Nissan’s July sales figures were down compared to the same month last year, a slump that has affected the Leaf, as well.
Amazon’s Scout six-wheeled, sidewalk driving delivery robots have begun doing deliveries in Southern California, to customers in the Irvine area. Amazon announced this first California deployment of Scout bots in a blog post, noting that in its experience to date, the company has had plenty of opportunity to experience a range of weather conditions in its first deployments in the Pacific Northwest in Seattle – so weather-wise at least, the little blue bot should have a smoother time in sunny CA.
There are only a “small number” of the robots currently deployed, so even if you’re an Irvine resident, don’t necessarily expect to get a glimpse of one just yet. But they will be making their way to customer homes “during daylight hours,” Monday to Friday, per Amazon. They’ll be sent out at random for orders placed by customers through Amazon as usual, regardless of what delivery option you select.
While the robots can drive themselves around, which is the whole point of the project to begin with, for the time being they’ll be accompanied by an ‘Amazon Scout Ambassador .’ These Amazon staff are part diplomat, part research associate for the project, answering questions from people in the neighborhood and also taking note of their reactions. Robots aren’t yet actually interacting with people too much on a daily basis, especially out in the world, so a key part of rolling them out commercially is studying how people interact with them, and think about how those interactions might be altered or improved.
A lot of thought went into the initial Scout design, both in terms of making sure it’s able to survive the many miles it traverses during a day, and in coming up with a design that looks and feels at once approachable but also somewhat bland, so as to quickly evolve from novelty to standard neighborhood background scenery.
Self-driving startup Optimus Ride will become the first to operate a commercial self-driving service in the state of New York – in Brooklyn. But don’t expect these things to be contending with pedestrians, bike riders, taxis and cars on New York’s busiest roads; instead, they’ll be offering shuttle services within Brooklyn Navy Yards, a 300-acre private commercial development.
The Optimus Ride autonomous vehicles, which have six seats across three rows for passengers, and which also always have both a safety driver and another Optimus staff observer on board, at least for now, will offer service seven days a week, for free, running a service loop that will cover the entire complex. It includes a stop at a new ferry landing on-site, which means a lot of commuters should be able to pretty easily grab a seat in one for their last-mile needs.
Optimus Ride’s shuttles have been in operation in a number of different sites across the U.S., including in Boston, Virginia, California and Massachusetts.
The Brooklyn Navy Yards is a perfect environment for the service, since it plays host to some 10,000 workers, but also includes entirely private roads – which means Optimus Ride doesn’t need to worry about public road rules and regulations in deploying a commercial self-driving service.
May Mobility, an Ann Arbor-based startup also focused on low-speed autonomous shuttles, has deployed in partnership with some smaller cities and on defined bus route paths. The approach of both companies is similar, using relatively simple vehicle designs and serving low-volume ridership in areas where traffic and pedestrian patterns are relatively easy to anticipate.
Commercially viable, fully autonomous robotaxi service for dense urban areas is still a long, long way off – and definitely out of reach for startup and smaller companies in the near-term. Tackling commercial service in controlled environments on a smaller scale is a great way to build the business while bringing in revenue and offering actual value to paying customers at the same time.
Grab popcorn. As Internet fights go this one deserves your full attention — because the fight is over your attention. Your eyeballs and the creepy ads that trade data on you to try to swivel ’em.
In the blue corner, the Internet Advertising Association’s CEO, Randall Rothenberg, who has been taking to Twitter increasingly loudly in recent days to savage Europe’s privacy framework, the GDPR, and bleat dire warnings about California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) — including amplifying studies he claims show “the negative impact” on publishers.
Exhibit A, tweeted August 1:
NB: The IAB is a mixed membership industry organization which combines advertisers, brands, publishers, data brokers* and adtech platform tech giants — including the dominant adtech duopoly, Google and Facebook, who take home ~60% of digital ad spend. The only entity capable of putting a dent in the duopoly, Amazon, is also in the club. Its membership reflects the sprawling interests attached to the online ad industry, and, well, the personal data that currently feeds it (your eyeballs again!), although some members clearly have pots more money to spend on lobbying against digital privacy regs than others.
In a what now looks to have been deleted tweet last month Rothenberg publicly professed himself proud to have Facebook as a member of his ‘publisher defence’ club. Though, admittedly, per the above tweet, he’s also worried about brands and retailers getting “killed”. He doesn’t need to worry about Google and Facebook’s demise because that would just be ridiculous.
Now, in the — I wish I could call it ‘red top’ corner, except these newspaper guys are anything but tabloid — we find premium publishers biting back at Rothenberg’s attempts to trash-talk online privacy legislation.
Here’s the New York Times‘ data governance & privacy guy, Robin Berjon, demolishing Rothenberg via the exquisite medium of quote-tweet…
One of the primary reasons we need the #GDPR and #CCPA (and more) today is because the @iab, under @r2rothenberg's leadership, has been given 20 years to self-regulate and has used the time to do [checks notes] nothing whatsoever.https://t.co/hBS9d671LU
— Robin Berjon (@robinberjon) August 1, 2019
I’m going to quote Berjon in full because every single tweet packs a beautifully articulated punch:
Next time Facebook talks about how it can self-regulate its access to data I suggest you cc that entire thread.
Also chipping in on Twitter to champion Berjon’s view about the IAB’s leadership vacuum in cleaning up the creepy online ad complex, is Aram Zucker-Scharff, aka the ad engineering director at — checks notes — The Washington Post.
His punch is more of a jab — but one that’s no less painful for the IAB’s current leadership.
“I say this rarely, but this is a must read,” he writes, in a quote tweet pointing to Berjon’s entire thread.
I say this rarely, but this is a must read, Thread: https://t.co/FxKmT9bp7r
— Aram Zucker-Scharff (@Chronotope) August 2, 2019
Another top tier publisher’s commercial chief also told us in confidence that they “totally agree with Robin” — although they didn’t want to go on the record today.
In an interesting twist to this ‘mixed member online ad industry association vs people who work with ads and data at actual publishers’ slugfest, Rothenberg replied to Berjon’s thread, literally thanking him for the absolute battering.
“Yes, thank you – that’s exactly where we’re at & why these pieces are important!” he tweeted, presumably still dazed and confused from all the body blows he’d just taken. “@iab supports the competitiveness of the hundreds of small publishers, retailers, and brands in our global membership. We appreciate the recognition and your explorations,@robinberjon.”
Yes, thank you – that’s exactly where we’re at & why these pieces are important! @iab supports the competitiveness of the hundreds of small publishers, retailers, and brands in our global membership. We appreciate the recognition and your explorations, @robinberjon & @Bershidsky https://t.co/WDxrWIyHXd
— Randall Rothenberg (@r2rothenberg) August 2, 2019
Rothenberg also took the time to thank Bloomberg columnist, Leonid Bershidsky, who’d chipped into the thread to point out that the article Rothenberg had furiously retweeted actually says the GDPR “should be enforced more rigorously against big companies, not that the GDPR itself is bad or wrong”.
Who is Bershidsky? Er, just the author of the article Rothenberg tried to nega-spin. So… uh… owned.
May I point out that the piece that's cited here (mine) says the GDPR should be enforced more rigorously against big companies, not that the GDPR itself is bad or wrong?
— Leonid Bershidsky (@Bershidsky) August 1, 2019
But there’s more! Berjon tweeted a response to Rothenberg’s thanks for what the latter tortuously referred to as “your explorations” — I mean, the mind just boggles as to what he was thinking to come up with that euphemism — thanking him for reversing his position on GDPR, and for reversing his prior leadership vacuum on supporting robustly enforced online privacy laws.
“It’s great to hear that you’re now supporting strong GDPR enforcement,” he writes. “It’s indeed what most helps the smaller players. A good next step to this conversation would be an @iab statement asking to transpose the GDPR to US federal law. Want to start drafting something?”
It's great to hear that you're now supporting strong GDPR enforcement. It's indeed what most helps the smaller players. A good next step to this conversation would be an @iab statement asking to transpose the GDPR to US federal law. Want to start drafting something?
— Robin Berjon (@robinberjon) August 2, 2019
We’ve asked the IAB if, in light of Rothenberg’s tweet, it now wishes to share a public statement in support of transposing the GDPR into US law. We’ll be sure to update this post if it says anything at all.
We’ve also screengrabbed the vinegar strokes of this epic fight — as an insurance policy against any further instances of the IAB hitting the tweet delete button. (Plus, I mean, you might want to print it out and get it framed.)
Some light related reading can be found here:
Tesla has launched a new utility-scale energy storage product called Megapack modeled after the giant battery system it deployed in South Australia as the company seeks to provide an alternative to natural gas “peaker” power plants.
Megapack is the third and largest energy storage system offered by Tesla. The company also sells the residential Powerwall and the commercial Powerpack systems.
Megapack, which Tesla announced Monday in a blog post, is the latest effort by the company to retool and grow its energy storage business, which is a smaller revenue driver than sales of its electric vehicles. Of the $6.4 billion in total revenue posted in the second quarter, just $368 million was from Tesla’s solar and energy storage product business.
Tesla did deploy a record 415 megawatt-hours of energy storage products in the second quarter, an 81% increase from the previous quarter, according to Tesla’s second-quarter earnings report that was released July 24. Powerwalls are now installed at more than 50,000 sites.
The Megapack offering could provide an even bigger boost if Tesla can convince utilities to opt for it instead of the more common natural gas peaker plants used today. And it seems it already has.
Tesla’s Megapack will provide 182.5 MW of the upcoming 567 MW Moss Landing energy storage project in California with PG&E.
The so-called Megapack was specifically designed and engineered to be an easy-to-install utility-scale system. Each system comes fully assembled — that includes battery modules, bi-directional inverters, a thermal management system, an AC main breaker and controls — with up to 3 megawatt-hours of energy storage and 1.5 MW of inverter capacity.
The system includes software, developed by Tesla, to monitor, control and monetize the installations, the company said in a blog post announcing Megapack.
All Megapacks connect to Powerhub, an advanced monitoring and control platform for large-scale utility projects and microgrids, and can also integrate with Autobidder, Tesla’s machine-learning platform for automated energy trading, the company said.
Megapack was inspired by Tesla’s Hornsdale project, which combined its 100 MW Powerpack system with Neoen’s wind farm near Jamestown in South Australia. The Tesla Powerpack system stored power generated by the wind farm and then delivered the electricity to the grid during peak hours. The facility saved nearly $40 million in its first year.
Today, the go-to option for utilities are natural gas “peaker” power plants. Peaker power plants are used when a local utility grid can’t provide enough power to meet peak demand, an occurrence that has become more common as temperatures and populations rise.
Tesla hopes to be the sustainable alternative. And in states like California, which have ambitious emissions targets, Tesla could gain some ground. Instead of using a natural gas peaker plant, utilities could use the Megapack to store excess solar or wind energy to support the grid’s peak loads.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is looking for pitches on how to enhance and augment traditional creative arts through immersive technologies.
Through a partnership with Microsoft the foundation is offering a share of a $750,00 pool of cash and the option of technical support from Microsoft, including mentoring in mixed-reality technologies and access to the company’s suite of mixed reality technologies.
“We’ve seen how immersive technologies can reach new audiences and engage existing audiences in new ways,” said Chris Barr, director for arts and technology innovation at Knight Foundation, in a statement. “But arts institutions need more knowledge to move beyond just experimenting with these technologies to becoming proficient in leveraging their full potential.”
Specifically, the foundation is looking for projects that will help engage new audiences; build new service models; expand access beyond the walls of arts institutions; and provide means to distribute immersive experiences to multiple locations, the foundation said in a statement.
“When done right, life-changing experiences can happen at the intersection of arts and technology,” said Victoria Rogers, Knight Foundation vice president for arts. “Our goal through this call is to help cultural institutions develop informed and refined practices for using new technologies, equipping them to better navigate and thrive in the digital age.”
Launched at the Gray Area Festival in San Francisco, the new initiative is part of the Foundation’s art and technology focus, which the organization said is designed to help arts institutions better meet changing audience expectations. Last year, the foundation invested $600,000 in twelve projects focused on using technology to help people engage with the arts.
“We’re incredibly excited to support this open call for ways in which technology can help art institutions engage new audiences,” says Mira Lane, Partner Director Ethics & Society at Microsoft. “We strongly believe that immersive technology can enhance the ability for richer experiences, deeper storytelling, and broader engagement.”
Here are the winners from the first $600,000 pool:
Project lead: Nicole Keating | Miami | @ArshtCenter
Developing forecasting software that enables cultural institutions to make data-centered decisions in planning their seasons and events.
Project lead: T.J. Black | Miami Beach | @TheBassMoA
Using 360-degree photography technology to capture and share the exhibit experience in an engaging, virtual way for remote audiences.
Project lead: Shane Richey | Bentonville, Arkansas | @crystalbridges
Developing mobile software to deliver immersive audio-only stories that museum visitors would experience when walking up to art for a closer look.
Project lead: Brian Kirschensteiner | East Lansing, Michigan | @msubroad
Creating a system of smart labels that combine ultra-thin touch displays and microcomputers to deliver interactive informational content about artwork to audiences.
Making theater and performance art more accessible for the deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speaking communities by integrating augmented reality smart glasses with an open access smart captioning system to accompany live works.
Developing a mobile app for classical music audiences that receives real-time program notes at precisely-timed moments of a live musical performance.
Encouraging public input on new forms of historical monuments through a digital tool that allows users to identify locations, topics and create designs for potential public art and monuments in our cities.
Prototyping a tool in the form of a smartphone/tablet app for cultural institutions to capture visitor demographic data, increasing knowledge on who is and who is not participating in programs.
Project lead: Norah Diedrich | Newport, Rhode Island | @NewportArtMuse
Enabling audiences to share immediate feedback and reflections on art by designing hardware and software to test recording and sharing of audience thoughts.
Producing touchscreen installations in public locations that allow users to create and share poetry by reflecting on and responding to historical documents, oral histories, and multimedia stories about current events and community issues.
Using crowdsourcing methods to improve Wikipedia descriptions of artworks in major collections so people can better access and understand art virtually.
The Void, a developer of immersive virtual reality entertainment centers, is partnering with the multinational, multihyphenate mall developer Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield to build 25 new locations around the world.
Location-based virtual reality has become the default gateway into the consumer market for virtual reality headsets, given that adoption of the consumer wearable device hasn’t been all that robust.
Utah-based The Void has some big intellectual property behind its immersive experiences, including ‘Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire’ from Lucasfilm; Walt Disney Animation’s ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’; and ‘Ghostbusters: Dimension.’
Through the partnership with Westfield in the U.S., the company intends to launch pop-ups at the Westfield World Trade Center in New York, the Westfield San Francisco Centre, Westfield Santa Anita on the outskirts of Pasadena and Westfield UTC in San Diego. The Void notes that all of those locations will become permanent going forward.
The companies also intend to take the show on the road with openings planned for Paris, London, Amsterdam, Chicago, Copenhagen, Oberhausen, San Jose, Calif., Stockholm and Vienna.
This partnership between the two companies reflects some harsh realities for both businesses. For virtual reality it’s the limited home adoption of headset entertainment, and for shopping malls, it’s the rise of e-commerce and the conversion of these public spaces from shopping destinations to broader entertainment hubs.
It’s a fact that Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield chief executive Christophe Cuvillier acknowledged in a statement about the partnership. “Over the past years, our industry has evolved dramatically. In a connected world, shopping is not enough anymore,” Cuvillier said in a statement. “Today, our customers expect to be entertained and brought together to share memorable, engaging sensory experiences.”
Autonomous delivery company Udelv has signed yet another partner to launch a new pilot of its self-driving goods delivery service: Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B Group. The pilot will provide service to customers in Olmos Park, just outside of downtown San Antonio where the grocery retailer is based.
California-based Udelv will provide H-E-B with one of its Newton second-generation autonomous delivery vehicles, which are already in service in trials in the Bay Area, Arizona and Houston providing deliveries on behalf of some of Udelv’s other clients, which include Walmart among others.
Udelv CEO and founder Daniel Laury explained in an interview that they’re very excited to be partnering with H-E-B, because of the company’s reach in Texas, where it’s the largest grocery chain with approximately 400 stores. This initial phase only covers one car and one store, and during this part of the pilot the vehicle will have a safety driver on board. But the plan includes the option to expand the partnership to cover more vehicles and eventually achieve full driverless operation.
“They’re really at the forefront of technology, in the areas where they need to be,” Laury said. “It’s a very impressive company.”
For its part, H-E-B Group has been in discussion with a number of potential partners for autonomous deliver trials, and according to Paul Tepfenhart, SVP of Omnichannel and Emerging Technologies at H-E-B, but it liked Udelv specifically because of their safety record, and because they didn’t just come in with a set plan and a fully formed off-the-shelf offering – they truly partnered with HEB on what the final deployment of the pilot would look like.
Both Tepfenhart and Laury emphasized the importance of customer experience in providing autonomous solutions, and Laury noted that he thinks Udelv’s unique advantage in the increasingly competitive autonomous curbside delivery business is its attention to the robotics of the actual delivery and storage components of its custom vehicle.
“The reason I think we’re we’ve been so successful, is because we focused a lot on the delivery robotics,” Laury explained. “If you think about it, there’s no autonomous delivery business that works if you don’t have the robotics aspect of it figured out also. You can have an autonomous vehicle, but if you don’t have an automated cargo space where merchants can load [their goods] and consumers can unload the vehicle by themselves, you have no business.”
Udelv also thinks that it has an advantage when it comes to its business model, which aims to generate revenue now, in exchange for providing actual value to paying customers, rather than counting on being supported entirely through funding from a wealthy investor or deep-pocketed corporate partners. Laury likens it to Tesla’s approach, where it actually has over 500,000 vehicles on the road helping it build its autonomous technology – but all of those are operated by paying customers who get all the benefits of owing their cars today.
“We want to be the Tesla of autonomous delivery,” Laury said. “If you think about it, Tesla has got 500,000 vehicles on the road […] if you think about this, for of all the the cars in the world that have some level of automated driver assistance (ADAS) or autonomy, I think Tesla’s 90% of them – and they get the customers to pay a ridiculous amount of money for that. Everybody else in the business is getting funding from something else. Waymo is getting funding from search; Cruise is getting funding from GM and SoftBank and others, Nuro is getting funding from SoftBank. So, pretty much everybody else is getting funding from a source that’s a different source from the actual business they’re supposed to be in.”
Laury says that Udelv’s unique strength is in the ability the company has to provide value to partners like HEB today, through its focus on robotics and solving problems like engineering the robotics of the loading and customer pick-up experience, which puts it in a unique place where it can fund its own research through revenue-generating services that can be offered in-market now, rather than ten years from now.
Not that long ago, visiting the website of an auto dealership was a little like going to a store without a cash register. The retailer’s website might list all the cars, trucks and SUVs in its inventory, but there would be no way to actually buy one online.
A digital commerce startup called Drive Motors jumped in to fill that void. Unlike Carvana and Shift and other online used car startups that have emerged on the scene, this company is providing the “buy button” for dealerships and automakers by creating a native transaction layer within their existing webpages and stores.
Now, the three-year-old company is flush with a fresh injection of capital, high-profile investors and a new name that founder Aaron Krane says better reflects its broader vision and business plan.
The startup, now called Modal, has raised $5 million in capital from new investors, including Peter Thiel, Japanese dealer conglomerate IDOM, and Ally Ventures, the investing arm of national auto lender Ally Financial.
The company started small, first landing local dealerships in California as customers of its real-time financing and digital commerce platform. Today, its customers include auto brands and some of the largest dealer groups in the country. In 2018, the startup saw its online monthly volume per store double to more than $1.8 million per month, and more than $10 million per month for top-performing individual stores.
That transaction layer is still the core feature of the company’s business, Krane told TechCrunch. Modal has added several new features since its last funding round, including real-time financing, digital documents and in-store point of sale.
Krane initially landed on the name Drive Motors because it sounded relevant to the auto dealerships he wanted to win over and not the Silicon Valley tech world where he had come from. (Krane founded Drive Motors after selling his fantasy sports startup Hitpost to Yahoo, and becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures.)
The new name and capital just better reflects its broader strategy, he added. Krane landed on the name Modal because it embodies the company’s primary mission of delivering transactions within someone else’s experience.
“We want to be invisible, we want to be a fully self-contained embedded feature within a car brand’s vehicle page, or a car retailer’s vehicle page,” Krane said. “We don’t want to change the context on the buyer at all; that’s a philosophy that starts at the top and penetrates all the way down even the smallest decisions in our company.”
That notion of transparency and self-contained interactions led Krane to the new name because “modal,” in software terminology, means a self-contained user interface that is overlaid on top of an existing application page and keeps that existing application page in full view the whole time.
The new name also hints towards where the company is headed.
“The platform starts with just creating accessibility to a digital transaction, but it becomes the ultimate channel to introduce an entire ownership operating system, which can span everything from the more contemporary mundane automotive needs like servicing, all the way through introducing the most far out mobility or connected vehicle features,” Krane said.
SpaceX has managed to do another thing that seemed audacious and highly unlikely after a few early botched attempts. It used a ship at sea to catch the falling nosecone that shielded the cargo aboard its Falcon Heavy rocket during launch.
The maneuver saw a SpaceX -owned barge called Ms. Tree rigged with a giant net slung across four large protruding beams navigate to a point off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean to await the SpaceX fairing’s return once it separated from the rocket. Falcon Heavy launched from Kennedy Space Center last night for its STP-2 mission.
After beginning its career serving the launches that take place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Ms. Tree (née Mr. Steven) traveled to the East Coast via the Panama Canal earlier in the year to make some attempts at catching SpaceX rockets launched from Florida.
The boat was put into service during a SpaceX launch from Vandenberg for the first time in February 2017, but the fairing missed the net and the boat, and the same is true for three subsequent attempts in 2018, during which SpaceX also decked the boat out with larger nets to give it a better chance of success.
This is a big deal for SpaceX because it likely makes re-using the fairings much more feasible. CEO Elon Musk has said that the company is basically throwing away $6 million every time it loses one of these fairings to a hard ocean landing, and so SpaceX has been working on a way to recover the parts – just like it recovers boosters via controlled descent.
The nosecone parts (each launch has two, one fairing for each half of the payload capsule) have been able to control their descent using small thrusters and a parachute which SpaceX can steer to a degree from the ground since the company’s 2017 SES-10 mission, but until now they’ve dropped in the ocean, which makes recovery more challenging and difficult to refurbish.
During this launch, Ms. Tree caught one half of the fairing as planned, and the other half landed in the water nearby. The big test now will be examining the returned caught fairing to determine if it’s suitable for refurbishment and re-flight, which could help a lot in trimming SpaceX launch costs further still.
This is it. The final call for all the mobility and transportation startuppers who want to save a solid Benjamin on their ticket to the TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 conference in San Jose, Calif. on July 10. The early-bird ticket price disappears tonight, June 14 at 11:59 p.m. (PT). Beat that deadline and buy a ticket — or pay full freight.
Get ready to experience a full day devoted to the revolution that’s taking place within the mobility and transportation industries. More than 1,000 people — the greatest minds, biggest names and influential thinkers, makers and investors — will attend a day packed with interviews, panel discussions, fireside chats, demos and workshops.
Along with TechCrunch editors, speakers will question assumptions and examine complex technological and regulatory issues. They’ll discuss capital investment concerns and look at the ethics and human factors in a future of autonomous cars, delivery robots and flying taxis.
Here’s a small sample of the programming that’s on tap. The event agenda can help you plan your day, although you may have to clone yourself to catch it all.
Building Business and Autonomy: Co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson will be on hand to talk about Zoox, an independent autonomous vehicle company. Its cars can navigate tricky San Francisco streets — including the notoriously iconic Lombard Street. We’ll hear how Zoox plans to navigate the challenging road to business success.
The Future of Freight: The trucking industry is in serious trouble, and startups and OEMs are scrambling to come up with a solution. Volvo’s Jenny Elfsberg and Stefan Seltz-Axmacher of Starsky Robotics will join us to debate whether autonomous trucks are the fix we need or if another near-term technology can pave the way to a more efficient and profitable industry.
Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? Michael Granoff of Maniv Mobility, Ted Serbinski of Techstars and Bain Capital’s Sarah Smith will debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.
Today’s the last day you can save $100 on your pass to the TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 conference in San Jose, Calif. on July 10. Buy your ticket by 11:59 p.m. (PT) tonight, June 14 or kiss that early bird — and $100 — goodbye.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
The switch has been flipped on the 24-hour shot clock, which means there’s only one day left to save $100 on your pass to TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 in San Jose, Calif. on July 10. Early-bird savings ends on Friday, June 14 at 11:59 p.m. (PT), so buy your ticket now and save.
Join more than 1,000 dreamers and makers at TC’s day-long event focused on the current and future state of mobility and transportation. Hear from the top minds in their fields and see demos of their latest work. They’re not just dreaming of the future. They’re determined to invent, fund and build the revolutionary technology required to create it.
If you want to place your tech startup in front of this very targeted audience, a demo table is the way to go. But we have only one demo table left, so get moving and book a demo table now.
With all those mobility big wigs in the house, you’ll be in high networking mode, right? CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s business match-making service, simplifies the connection process for you. It’s free and, even better, it will help you find people based on specific mutual business criteria, goals and interests. You’ll save time meeting the right people. Sweet!
Take a look at just some of the speakers and presentations we have scheduled. And check out the full agenda while you’re at it.
Delivering the Future: We’ll talk with Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson to hear all about the strengths and challenges of building a self-driving vehicle, with a focus on local deliveries like groceries, food and retail goods.
Rethinking Urban Mobility: Motorcycle racing pioneer Erik Buell returns with a new company and vision. We’ll talk to Buell, now chairman of EV startup Fuell, about the tech behind the Flow electric motorcycle and the Fluid electric bicycle.
Autonomous Robotaxis vs. Shuttles: Karl Iagnemma, Alisyn Malek and Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli represent some of the top minds trying to bring autonomous vehicle technology to the masses. They’ll debate which approaches make the most sense and have the best chances for economic viability, and which safety and security vulnerabilities and other challenges could throw them off track.
TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 takes place July 10 in San Jose, Calif. You have just 24 hours left before the early-bird pricing ends on Friday, June 14 at 11:59 p.m. (PT). Why spend more than necessary? Buy your ticket and save yourself $100.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
If you’re wild about anything and everything related to mobility and transportation, you do not want to miss the TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 conference in San Jose, Calif. on July 10.
If you’re also wild about saving money, then synchronize your Apple watches — there are 48 hours left to score the early-bird price and save $100. That train leaves the station on Friday, June 14 at 11:59 p.m. (PT), so book your pass now.
More than 1,000 of the industries’ top technologists, founders, investors, engineers and researchers will be there to explore the current and future states of transformational technologies — flying taxis, delivery drones, dockless scooters, autonomous vehicles and more.
World-class speakers and TechCrunch editors will look at both the exciting benefits and the formidable challenges that will ultimately and profoundly affect billions of people around the world. Here’s a taste of what’s coming (you can also check out the full agenda):
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
SpaceX’s launch today from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base went off without a hitch, carrying three satellites that make up the RADARSAT constellation to be used for observation by the Canadian government.
The launch today included use of a Falcon 9 first stage that flew a mission only a few months ago, when it carried SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to orbit during an uncrewed demonstration mission in March. The first stage was refurbished and reflown, bringing SpaceX yet another step closer to its goal of narrowing the window between flights for its reusable rocketry further still.
SpaceX also recovered the first stage with a controlled landing back at the company’s LZ-4 landing pad at Vandenberg. SpaceX has now demonstrated its ability to land up to three boosters at once when launching its larger Falcon Heavy orbital rocket.
The SpaceX rocket also successfully deployed all three of its cargo of RADARSAT observation satellites into their respective target orbits, completing the mission for its customer MDA.
The next launch on the schedule for SpaceX is another Falcon Heavy launch set for June 24, which will be its third flight and its first for the US Air Force. On board, it’ll have the USAF’s Space Test Program Flight 2, which includes experimental small sat payloads and a number of research projects from NASA.